How to create an actionable career plan

How to create an actionable career plan

Many people have career goals, but often wait for a promotion rather than actively taking steps to ensure they get that new job. If you’d like to steadily climb to the top of your profession, follow these 10 steps to become proactive in moving your career forward.

  1. Set concrete goals with dates

    Create a career plan with deadlines, looking at where you want to be in one year, three years and five years. Set deadlines not only for getting a promotion or specific job title, but also for completing the tasks that will help you get there (such as adding a certification or taking a class at a local community college).

    Think about using a personal organizer to put your career plan into writing, making it easy to enter, reference, update and cross things off your list as you pursue your goals.

  2. Create a career file

    Assign a folder in one of your home desk drawers to your career plan. This is where you’ll keep the letters you receive from companies, brochures for educational seminars, professional magazines, to-do lists and anything else pertaining to your career goals. Having a tangible career folder makes your career planning a more “real” project and not something that only exists in your mind. For multi-year plans, consider investing in a file cabinet or other filing system.

  3. Research job descriptions

    If you want a specific job, you’ll need to know exactly what that job entails and what skills HR departments look for in candidates. Search job boards for job descriptions of titles you want, even if you’re not ready to apply for those jobs right now. This will help guide you in building the skills you’ll need.

  4. Start skill building

    Once you know what skills and experience you’ll need to get your dream job, start improving your skill set. If your industry offers a certification, research the steps it will take to earn it. If the job you want requires specific technology skills, look for one-day workshops or online training courses. Ask your company if they pay for continuing education, school tuition or certification training.

  5. Improve your online reputation

    Have you Googled yourself lately? Potential employers will. Before you send a resume, check out, clean up and improve your online presence. Make your personal social media sites private, keep your LinkedIn profile up to date and delete iffy Instagram posts. You might find yourself listed on a website as a donor to a particular political party or find a video of yourself at a college rally. Contact webmasters of those sites to see if they will remove or update information about you that’s incorrect. If you don’t hear back after you make an online request, follow up with a phone call. If you can’t get awkward information about yourself deleted from the Internet, prepare a positive response for recruiters who might ask you about what they find.

  6. Set up informational interviews

    Find people who hold the job you want and ask them if they would be willing to talk to you about their careers, how they got to where they are and what advice they have for preparing for this position. If possible, find a mentor. Bring a resume to informational interviews but don’t offer it—your contact might think you are trying to backdoor a job offer. Have one ready in case you’re asked, though.

  7. Serve on industry committees and boards

    You don’t need to be a CEO to serve on the board of directors of many professional groups. Many desperately need volunteers and will train you by having you start out on a committee (such as the newsletter or annual meeting committee), then becoming a committee chairperson, then becoming a board member. You can first try to get experience by serving on the board of a local nonprofit, such as a youth sports league.

  8. Prepare for public speaking

    As you climb the ladder during your career, you’ll become more of an expert in your field and you may be asked to share your expertise at conferences or seminars. Don’t wait until you’re asked to make a presentation to learn effective public speaking techniques. If you aren’t a subject matter expert yet but belong to an association or professional society, volunteer to introduce speakers and/or moderate a panel discussion if a list of questions is provided. Read books and online articles that explain how to make presentations so you’re ready when you’re at a point in your career where you have something to share. Learn how to create and deliver PowerPoint presentations.

  9. Build the right network

    A business network should consist of more than just professional people you know well. It should include people who might one day be in a position to help you land your dream job. They might do this by serving as a reference, sending you a heads up about a job that’s not advertised, or providing an introduction to others who can help you.

  10. Manage your network

    In addition to building a network, you need to manage it. Once you’ve added someone to your professional circle, keep in contact with him or her via email, LinkedIn and other professional means. If the only time someone hears from you is when you need a job, you haven’t developed a valuable network. Attend conferences, trade shows, cocktail parties and other professional events even if you don’t feel you’ll get much out of them; your network needs to see that you are committed to your profession. Use your network to review your resume and to conduct mock interviews with people who hold the job you want “interviewing” you for their position.


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